Bradford’s ponds aren’t reaching their potential, and we think we know why

central-park-143473_1280Background:  When we build ponds in urban areas, they can play a number of important roles: managing floodwater, cooling the urban environment, removing pollution, improving the appearance of built-up areas and providing a habitat for wildlife. However, these different functions often require different forms of management, and so urban managers typically prioritise one or a small number of purposes. We were interested in the biodiversity value of ponds in Bradford in the UK.

What we did: My MSc student, Andrew Noble, surveyed a series of 21 sites across Bradford including 11 ponds that were prioritised for biodiversity, 6 ponds that were prioritised for amenity (usually park lakes and other ornamental features), and 4 ponds that were used as overflow ponds for water management. He surveyed aquatic plants and aquatic invertebrates to investigate patterns of biodiversity. This was then compared against what would be expected from high quality ponds of similar size (called a “reference site approach”). The results showed that the urban ponds were generally of very low quality, and that unsurprisingly the biodiversity ponds tended to contain higher numbers of animals and plants. However, this was not always the case and some amenity and overflow ponds contained more species despite not being managed for biodiversity. Finally, Andrew talked with managers who, while obviously enthusiastic about biodiversity, were unaware of important local factors that were influencing their sites, such as run-off from local sports fields which were likely contributing to algal blooms.

Importance: There have been a range of studies (including some by me) which have suggested that urban ponds can provide substantial benefits for biodiversity. However, these high value ponds are relatively rare, and it is important that we understand what factors result in some ponds being of high value while others are not. This study suggests that management could play a major role.

This is part of a series of short lay summaries that describe the technical publications I have authored.  This paper, entitled “Poor ecological quality of urban ponds in northern England: causes and consequences”, was published in the journal Urban Ecosystems in 2014. You can find this paper at the publisher’s website.

Image credit: tpsdave,, Public Domain.

52 Weeks of Photography: Week 5 (Meanwood Valley Urban Farm)

This wasn’t really designed as a photography trip, but my partner and I were at the Meanwood Valley Urban Farm today and I thought I would share some random photos to keep the blog ticking along:

What I learned: Donkeys are loud, alpacas need dentists, and Leeds is frequently overcast.

My PhD thesis in the ten hundred most used words

Calopteryx splendens femaleInspired by this xkcd comic, and facilitated by this online tool, people have been summarising all kinds of ideas using the 1,000 most common words.  Naturally PhD students have latched onto this as a source of procrastination and, in a show of solidarity, I decided to join them (this was during my lunch break – honest!).  Here’s my PhD thesis:

My work looks at how animals change as the world gets warmer.  My animal is like a fly but it has four flying bits, eats other animals, and has big eyes.  By looking at where people saw these animals in the past, I figured out how the place and time at which they appear changes with how hot it is.   I found that they appear earlier when it is hot, which is interesting because these animals spend most of their lives in water.  Animals in water had not been shown to change when they appear in this way before.   I also looked at the ways in which we look at changes in where animals appear and showed the best way to look at this problem.  Last, I looked at how the form of these animals changes as they move when it gets hotter.  I found that the animals that had moved a long way had a form that made it easy for them to move (like big flying bits).  In short, the changes shown by the animals that I looked at can be used to build a case for a warming world.

52 Weeks of Photography: Week 4 (Dave the spider)

First, a warning to anyone who doesn’t like spiders: I was trying out my macro again, and there are some pretty big close-ups…   Now that that’s over with, this week I wanted to try out a new toy.  I had been hoping that my new light box would arrive for last week’s macro attempt, […]

52 Weeks of Photography: Week 3 (Insect Graveyards)

Last week I mentioned being inspired by this fascination post from Dragonfly Woman, who looked at the diversity of insects that had passed-on in various light fittings around her home.  I thought I would try the same thing, as it gives an opportunity to get close to the wee beasties without them running away.  Here’s the result: […]

Dragonfly intestines: nature’s Swiss Army knife

“We should be extremely cautious in concluding that an organ could not have been formed by transitional gradations of some kind.  Numerous cases could be given amongst the lower animals of the same organ performing at the same time wholly distinct functions; thus in the larva of the dragonfly… the alimentary canal respires, digests and excretes.”

– Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species, Chapter 6Read More »

The difference between men and women

I had the pleasure this evening of introducing Prof Root Gorelick to give a lecture to the local Centre for Inquiry group here in Ottawa.  I have seen him give a number of relatively provocative talks at conferences and I knew his engaging style and fascinating subject matter would make for an interesting evening.  Some people have asked me to summarise the talk as they couldn’t make it, so here is my best attempt while it is still fresh in my mind…
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